A salty issue

Attempts are on to save Goa's sinking salt industry which has used traditional production methods since the 10th century

By Frederick Noronha
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

GOA'S traditional salt industry, said to have been a major supplier of salt to the country, and an exporter to some foreign countries since the 10th century, is fast dying. "Salt farming could be extinct in Goa unless the government takes it upon itself and does something to alleviate the problems of existing units," says Reyna Sequeira, a scholar from the Goa University.

Till the last century, an estimated 28 Goan villages depended on a salt-based economy. Today, the figure nosedived to half a dozen. To pep up the industry, campaigning groups are fighting to bring the issue to the administration's notice.

Salt produced traditionally in Goa has been used for ice plants, fish curing, domestic purposes, as a nutrient for coconut trees, and for salting mangoes and making pickles. Historians suggest that the late 19th century Anglo- Portuguese 'Salt' Treaty struck the first death-blow to Goa's salt industry. Then came mining, and destruction of low- lying walls which protected khazan lands (reclaimed from tidal flooding by protective walls stretching for 2,000 km).

Now, with the changes in lifestyles, traditional salt producers have found newer means of livelihood. Besides, illegal pisciculture, land 'reclamations', water pollution due to industrial effluents, sewage, oil and grease from ironore barges, fertilisers and pesticides have rung the death knell for the trade. Salt farmers, who lack official support, face capital shortages. The production also lacks a minimum-support price.

"Salt-production is an environmentally clean, non-polluting, low-capital, labour- intensive, employment generating, rural economic activity which should get full government support," said a memorandum from the Pernem Taluka Salt Producers' Association, a group of farmers whose salt farms at Agarwado were recently badly damaged.

In fact, salt farming has the potential to offer seasonal semi-intensive aqua- culture, the harvesting of useful salt-tolerant seaweeds and even biofertilisers. Cyanobacteria, found in salt pans, are used as nitrogen-fixing partners in symbiosis with higher plants, and can greatly reduce the cost of fertilisers.

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